‘Guilt-tipping’: Why more businesses are asking customers to tip

CHARLOTTE — Some call it “guilt-tipping.” Customers are being asked to tip seemingly everywhere in 2023.

It’s not just leaving 20% after service at a restaurant, now customers are faced with tablets and digital kiosks that request tips for counter service or even fast food.

Coffee connoisseur Madison Ascher enjoys indulging in her new home in Matthews, and she found herself recently spending more as she explores.

“There’s definitely a lot more of those little tablets that they flip toward you, or the little Toast machines,” Madison Ascher said.

Ascher noticed that many of those “little machines” have an option asking if customers want to pay a little more by adding a tip.

“I feel like when I’m at somewhere that’s actually serving you, like a coffee shop or a brewery, I don’t mind,” Ascher said. “It’s like quick places but they’re not really doing too much that you’re like, ‘Oh, I feel awkward.’ I don’t want to do a dollar tip, even.”

But one local business owner pointed out that not much has changed other than the method.

“Tip jars have been around forever,” said Andy Hunter, the owner of Jeremiah’s Italian Ice in Matthews. “The only part that’s new is offering it on a credit card transaction.”

Customers at Jeremiah’s Italian Ice get that option upon check-out. Hunter explained that tips aren’t expected, but he believes it helps workers and customers.

“It is a benefit to our employees for those who are financially able to do it -- they feel like they received five-star service from us, and it he lps us keep our menu prices low and widely available for everyone,” Hunter said.

While some are calling the increase in tips “tip-flation,” other shoppers are calling it “guilt-tipping.” They say the check-out trend asks you to leave a tip directly in front of the employee, making some feel obligated to tip when they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“When we’re confronted with these decisions in novel situations, consumers might not know what the norm is and might not know how to respond,” said Dr. Mason Jenkins, a marketing professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

“I still just do it because I have such bad social anxiety. It’s just a dollar,” Ascher said.

Those dollars are adding up. According to data from the digital payment company Square, tips at full and quick-service restaurants went up by about 16% during the last three months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

Mason studies consumer behaviors, and he believes customers are changing their habits, which is changing employer tipping norms.

“When businesses see other businesses request these tips in maybe a lower-service provided situation, the more they might feel it’s appropriate or normal to request them,” Mason said.

Ascher agrees with that theory, but she says she’s prepared to spend a little more than before.

(WATCH BELOW: Restaurants introduce new tipping initiative to support kitchen staff)